Andrew Gardner, Managing Director of Cooke & Arkwright chartered surveyors in Cardiff, is a member of the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) Dressage Committee, the world’s governing body for equestrian Olympic sport. In July 2021, he adjudicated at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Andrew’s ‘alternative career’ in judging began 30 years ago, and he became a 5*/O-dressage judge in 2011, adjudicating at the highest level achievable in the dressage discipline.
We asked him about his experience in Japan.
When did you first hear that you would be judging at the Olympics?
It was back in December 2018 when I received the appointment letter, but it was confidential for some time before it went public.
How did your journey to Japan go?
It was challenging! It started with British Airways cancelling my flight, and with just a very small window for travelling due to Covid restrictions and quarantine requirements, I had to fly to Frankfurt and fly with Lufthansa instead. Four days before, I had to have PCR Covid tests for which I had a special electronic kit. I had to photograph my self-administered test and then send it with bar code numbers to a doctor in Boston, USA, who prepared a Japanese compliant certificate.
Once we took off, I breathed a sigh of relief. On arrival in Tokyo, I only had to spend three-and-a-half hours clearing all the controls, unlike some colleagues who took over six hours. That said, they were highly efficient; there was just a lot to do!
Where did you stay while you were in Tokyo and what was your impression when you arrived?
I stayed in a very modern hotel in the heart of the city. Whilst being equipped with a smart French and Japanese restaurant, I was not allowed in either due to being a quarantined foreign official. Neither was I allowed in the gym, but this was less of an issue for me – as my colleagues would vouch! It was my first trip to Japan and I had originally planned to take extra time and tour about a bit. This was not to be; I was quarantined the whole time and not allowed out of the hotel, other than to the venue and back.
Can you describe the Olympic venue for us?
It was a high-quality stadium, originally built for the Tokyo Olympics of 1964. It is now fully modernised and provides a top-class facility. Sadly, I think much of it will be taken away.
Which days were you judging, and can you outline what that involved?
I judged each class. The preliminary Grand Prix class lasted two days and was a qualifier for the Grand Prix Special, which determined the team medals. It was also a qualifier for individuals who went through to the Freestyle class to music. As a judge I make up a part of a Ground Jury. There are seven of us in total, representing different countries and continents. We sit at different parts of the arena where we have slightly different perspectives from each other. We mark every movement independently and our marks are not known to other members of the Ground Jury until the end of the individual test. They are streamed live to the world’s audience who see everybody else’s mark, but the judges cannot see it until after each competitor.
This manner of judging creates independence and transparency, but there is considerable pressure as we wait in eager anticipation of how we might compare with each other. The top level sport cannot afford major discrepancies as this can prejudice credibility, even though if there is a difference, there is often a good reason why; for example, a technical issue that was visible from one part of the arena but not visible from another part.
What was it like at the stadium and how was the atmosphere with a limited audience?
It was excellent for the horses and athletes, but no public were allowed in. This created a rather surreal environment, but when I judge I find I am in my own zone of concentration and so I did not notice, in much the same way as I have not noticed a crowd of 60,000 in the past. What I did miss was the applause and audience enthusiasm after each performance.
Which dressage contenders stood out and can you tell us about any British successes?
The Germans stood out in general but there was up and coming talent emerging from the USA, Great Britain and Denmark in particular. Great Britain was very successful. The country has world class talent in respect of riders and trainers. Some riders are very young and so the future looks very promising.
It’s a huge achievement to be an Olympic judge. Would you like to reflect on your experience and what impression it made on you?
In truth, I was very honoured. It had been an ambition, but I never take things for granted. In the lead-up to the event there had been endless challenges with Covid, the delay of a year, the lack of practice and the logistics generally. The important thing is that the quality of the top sport was not compromised and so it was a very special and rewarding experience to judge.
Where will your ‘alternative career’ take you next?
I shall help support judges by joining the Judges’ Supervisory Panel, which functions at major championships.
Andrew joined Cooke & Arkwright as a graduate in 1985. He became a Director in 2002, and Managing Director in 2011. He is a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He is an RICS Accredited Evaluative Mediator and does mediation work as part of the firm’s services for property related disputes. Andrew has conducted major asset valuations and provided professional advice for leading Welsh organisations and public bodies, including The Crown Estate. He has a specialist background in residential development land agency, where he still advises both public and private sector landowners.